September 26 2012

The Civil Rights Struggle of Our Day

Vicki E. Alger

The civil rights struggle of our day.” That description of parental choice in education by Condolezza Rice at the Republican National Convention struck a deep chord with Virginia Walden Ford.

Ford grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where in 1957 the first black students integrated Central High School in 1957 (the Little Rick Nine). Nearly a decade later Ford and her twin sister were among more than 100 students selected to help desegregate Little Rock’s high schools city-wide. She has been a stalwart champion for parental choice in education and was instrumental to saving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Currently a Heritage Foundation Visiting Fellow, Ford recently reflected on Rice’s remarks and what they mean to her and all American school-age children:

Listening to Condoleezza Rice’s speech at the Republican convention the other night, I have never felt so proud.

Not because, like me, she is African American—and not because, like me, she is conservative—but because she makes everything so clear. We both grew up in the South and experienced so many things in common that impacted who we are. My family told me, just like Condi’s family told her, that with a quality education I could do and be anything I wanted to be.

It was with that advice ringing in my ears that I entered Little Rock Central High School in 1966 with a small group of black students during a difficult time in our country’s civil rights history. Of course, I didn’t become Secretary of State, but I did accomplish many things of which I am incredibly proud.

I, along with so many warriors, have fought hard for almost two decades for the children of this nation to receive a quality education. And I know, as Secretary Rice said, that “today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.”

My parents were teachers in public schools in Little Rock, so I felt a strong connection to Rice when she said, “My mom was a teacher. I respect the profession. We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones.”

She spoke with such passion and such commitment that I couldn’t help but get a little lump in my throat as I said to myself, She just gets it. She understands how I feel and why I fight! I was cheering as she said, “We need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents, whose kids—very often minorities—are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.”

As we continue to move forward in our efforts to ensure that all of America’s children receive the best education possible, I must agree with Rice that education “is the civil rights issue of our day.”

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